2017 was undoubtedly a year of brutal political turmoil and culminating social strife. However, it was also one of global empowerment and resilience. Women marched on D.C. and around America despite misogyny in powerful men, #MeToo was spread amidst untold counts of sexual assault coming to light, people took a knee while white supremacists rallied for hatred. From the discord, many individuals rose up to defend minorities, battle injustice, and dismantle oppressive systems. They have given their lives to the service of equality and justice. At Redefy, the Editorial Staff for Journalism wants to sincerely thank and celebrate some of these activists for improving the lives of countless people and bettering the world, voice by voice:
- Munroe Bergdorf
Munroe Bergdorf is a British model, DJ, and fierce activist. As a half-black, transgender woman, she speaks out for social justice with a steady voice, pulling from years of racist, transphobic, and sexist experiences. She constantly calls out complacency and ignorance of minority issues in mainstream media to her large social following: “do better.” In September, she was hired to be the face of l’Oreal True Match foundation. However, days later she was fired for posting a Facebook rant in response to the Charlottesville white supremacist rally in which she angrily brought to light systemic white privilege, the oppression of black people throughout history, and how we must dissemble social structures. Additionally, she was met with a stream of appalling racist and transphobic comments, and her post was deleted from facebook under the guise of “hate speech.” Yet she continued, never letting the fear of controversy hinder her from the fight for justice. Most recently, she came into criticism for saying the n-word on Good Morning Britain to highlight and explain the frequency of ignorance of black women’s strife in the media. “The outrage,” Bergdorf said, “of a black woman saying it around white people is often met with more controversy than the fact that black women are barraged with this word by some white social media users.” Her readiness to speak about issues not many are willing to speak on manifests in every fearless action she makes. We are excited to watch Bergdorf change the world as an inspiring black, LGBT, transgender woman.
2. Yara Shahidi
Though only 17, Yara Shahidi continues to demonstrate depth with every action she makes. As an amazing Black female influence, Shahidi proves that you can be an actress and an activist, that you can pursue your passion and continue standing up for your beliefs, no matter your age, race, or gender. In 2017, she starred as Zoe in seasons three and four of Blackish, and managed to convey her message on and off the set. Taking 8th place on DoSomething.org’s Celebs Gone Good 2017 list, Yara was a keynote speaker at Teen Vogue’s Inaugural Summit and inspires everyone that sees her work.
3. Tarana Burke
In 1997, Tarana Burke was left speechless, when a 13 year-old explained her experience with sexual abuse. She wished she had said “me too.” It was then that the Me Too Campaign was conceived (#MeToo). Years later, Tarana Burke created Just Be Inc. (later renamed into Me Too), a non profit that helps victims of sexual assault and harassment. In 2017, hundreds of thousands of women have shared their stories of sexual abuse. It has been made possible because of the growth of Me Too Movement and Ms. Burke’s admirable efforts. “This is about survivors,” expressed Burke, who continues her fight to amplify the voice of victims.
4. Erika Andiola
Erika Andiola is a longtime immigrant rights activist, who has dedicated herself to championing the DREAM Act, and was behind the #OurDream campaign. In protest, she spent countless hours camped in front of Senator John McCain’s Phoenix office with the “DREAM Army” supporters. A Dreamer (DACA recipient) herself, Andiola was arrested after sit-ins on Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Carlos Curbelo’s offices. Putting herself on the line as an undocumented immigrant, she refuses to cooperate when injustice prevails. “Our lives are at stake,” said Andiola in an interview, as she walked outside of a Washington, D.C. jail in 2017. Andiola, former spokesperson for Bernie Sanders, knows this personally as she continues to fight for the Dream Army, and motivate people to vote.
5. Linda Sarsour
For countless people across the globe, the Women’s March in early 2017 was a truly transformative and empowering moment– a moment that was made possible largely due to the efforts of four women. Linda Sarsour, along with Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, and Carmen Perez, have come to represent the feminist movement, with Sarsour specifically emphasizing the rights of female American-Muslims. In the past, Sarsour had arranged small, successful campaigns, including her fight to close public schools in her hometown of Brooklyn for the recognition of two of Islam’s most important holy days, and the cross-country March2Justice promoting female rights, which led almost 100 marchers through 5 states. However, in 2017 she teamed up with Mallory, Bland, and Perez with hopes of achieving something on an even larger scale, and she courageously battled through every difficulty to guarantee that they would succeed. It’s safe to say that the January 21st, 2017 Women’s March, which was attended by 500,000 people in Washington D.C. alone and more than 5 million in all of the United States, did just that and even more.
6. Loujain al-Hathloul & Sahar Nassif
Before September 2017, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that did not permit women to drive. Two prominent Saudi Arabian activists, Loujain al-Hathloul and Sahar Nassif, have been fighting this ban for years. 2017 is the year they, and many other activists, succeeded. Loujain, ranked 3rd in the list of Top 100 Most Powerful Arab Women in 2015, was arrested in 2014 and detained for 73 days after driving. When asked about her experience in juvenile jail, her eyes are said to have lit up and she responded that it was “enriching”. This past June she was arrested once more for driving. When the ban was lifted, she was overjoyed. Sahar Nassif, age 63, has been fighting for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia for years. She has openly defied the driving ban by filming herself driving and posting online. When the ban was finally lifted, she was thrilled not only but the news but also by her new free mustang presented to her by Ford. Many other powerful activists defied this ban and worked to void it. This step forward for Saudi Arabia is definite win for not only the powerful Saudi Arabian activists but also for feminists all around the world.
7. Opal Tometi
A co-founder of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and an avid human rights activist, Opal Tometi is the embodiment of empowerment for African American women. She is not only an advocate for the oppressed, but the leader of Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), and through this movement, in 2017 alone, has organized free immigration consultation and service, put together events supporting Black Migration and Mindfulness, and addressed marijuana policing and its impact on immigrants, Black immigration under Trump, and many more national issues.
8. Tamika Mallory
Tamika Mallory is the founder of Mallory Consulting and a national co-chair for the Women’s March, which played a pivotal role this year in shifting America’s complacency about women’s oppression to protest, with Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland, and Carmen Perez. She was rightfully named “a leader of tomorrow” by Valerie B. Jarrett, Senior Advisor to Barack Obama. A relentless advocate for equal opportunity for women, civil rights, gun control, reformed healthcare, and the elimination of police brutality (among countless others), Mallory has proven to be powerful with her words and unafraid of the backlash. In 2017, when she was kicked off an American Airlines flight, she took to mainstream and social media to expose the sexist and racist intent that presumably shrouded the situation. Having been subjected to this “white male aggression” her whole life, Mallory stood strong in the face of injustice and turned her mistreatment to activism. From women’s marches across the country to little text bubbles on social media, Mallory’s advocacy for the courage to dissent reigns.
9. Colin Kaepernick
Most know him as a football player, but Colin Kaepernick is also an activist, his biggest effort being beginning the #TakeaKnee campaign. Though he began by sitting during the National Anthem at a 2016 preseason game, the movement didn’t catch fire until 2017, when Kaepernick declared it an act against systematic oppression and began kneeling, along with most of the other teams in the NFL. This protest for his and the millions of other African Americans’ rights had Kaepernick named as GQ’s Citizen of the Year, despite the backlash he endured from his actions, and we hope he will continue using his influence to aide our national community.
10. Erica Garner
After her father Eric Garner died at the hands of a New York police officer’s choke-hold back in 2014, Erica Garner bravely faced a tough decision: should she put it upon herself to carry on her father’s legacy by fighting for the rights of other innocent African-Americans, or should she privately mourn her father’s passing and carry on with her life? Garner chose the former, and since then she has become an emblem for the African American movement against discriminatory police brutality, leading a “die-in” on the same street corner where her father was placed into a chokehold and calling out Mayor Bill de Blasio for not caring enough for African-Americans. Garner, like her father, has struggled with asthma for all her life, and she once confessed her frustration with the unfair police and court system and admitted that it has taken a toll on her health. On the morning of December 30th, 2017, Garner’s passing was confirmed by her mother, who also said that it was “the first fight in 27 years she lost.” In spite of all the hardships in her life, Garner remained true to her morals and truly fought until the end, and she continues to inspire the fighter in all of us. May Erica, an activist in the truest sense of the word, rest in peace.
-Julia Chang, Lily Zhu, Katie Jain, Joanne Wang, and Tanya Singh